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A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles, Viking, 2016, 464 pp
A most enjoyable read despite it length due to wonderful characters and a unique look at life in Moscow during the years immediately following the Russian revolution.
Count Alexander Rostov, wealthy and unrepentant aristocrat, is brought before a Bolshevik tribunal in 1922 and sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, the grand hotel where he already lives in a luxurious suite. He must give up that suite and most of his possessions to live in two small attic rooms. He is not permitted to leave the building under any circumstances and it becomes his entire world for many years.
If this sounds like the girl in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, it does have its similarities, including a happy ending. But the Count is a middle-aged man, he manages to have a little money secreted away plus is well educated and wise in the ways of the world.
After adjusting to his much reduced circumstances, he is shown all the secrets of the Metropol by a precocious young girl who reminded me of Eloise, another delightful hotel dweller in the New York Plaza Hotel.
As the story moves along the Count becomes a waiter in the hotel restaurant, acquires a daughter of his own when the young girl is left behind by her revolutionary mother, and falls in love with a movie star. All along, he learns the ways of life in a totalitarian society, he develops compassion for all kinds of people and proves that with wiles and luck, a person can figure out how to survive in any circumstances.
As entertaining and even intelligent as the story is, I did have doubts as to its likelihood. Having recently read The Green Tent and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, both of which show a much darker view of life in the Soviet Union, I could not help thinking that the Count got off too easily.
At the end of the story, it turns into more of a thriller which is full of danger and excitement, but despite some close calls no one get hurt. I decided to enjoy the excellent writing and the entertainment value along with some pithy satire. The author managed to stay just enough away from heartwarming but my heart was warmed anyway. He made me love Count Rostov.
(A Gentleman in Moscow is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)